Nova Scotia

University researchers urge province to take over daycare business

Two Mount Saint Vincent University researchers are urging the province to create a publicly run daycare system in Nova Scotia, a move they claim would better serve families and pay for itself in the long run.

Public system would better serve families and eventually pay for itself, MSVU researchers say

Two Halifax university researchers say the Nova Scotia government should expand its early childhood learning model and create a publicly run daycare system. (CBC)

Having a public daycare system in Nova Scotia would better serve the families who need it and could eventually pay for itself, two Halifax university researchers told a provincial legislature committee Thursday.

Tammy Findlay, chair of Political and Canadian studies at Mount St Vincent University, made a direct pitch to members of the standing committee on economic development.

"We need a public, universal and integrated system of early learning and child care,"  said Findlay, who studies child care policy.

She likened the move to the province's decision to create a program to bring four-year-olds into schools.

"When we create a pre-primary program, we don't give parents money and tell them to go find a pre-primary spot for their kids," she said. "We created a really great space for kids."

Tammy Findlay and James Sawler, professors and researchers at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, speak to a provincial legislature committee Thursday about the social and economic benefits of a publicly run daycare system. (CBC)

Her colleague, economist James Sawler, supported the call for public child care but for fiscal reasons.

Sawler pointed to a study by economist Pierre Fortin who examined the effects of Quebec's publicly run child care system.

"And he found that for every dollar that the Quebec government put into early childhood eduction, they got $1.05 back," he said. "The federal government got an extra $0.45. So that was just a bonus for the federal government."

He told the committee the figures were based on the fact the affordable spots allowed parents to work rather than stay home full-time.

"You have this increase in labour force participation, an increase in employment and incomes," he said. "Those people are paying income taxes, they're paying sales taxes and those funds then come back into the provincial government's coffers."

Sawler also said it is a good way to combat poverty.

"If you can participate in the labour force, if you can get a slightly decent wage, you can get your family and yourself above the poverty line."

Findlay said the current practice of the province subsiding daycare spots isn't working.

"It has not on its own created spaces," she told the politicians. "It doesn't necessarily address affordability. Lots of parents don't qualify for subsidies and the subsidies don't cover — fully cover — the costs, so the costs can keep going up."

She said private daycare also creates a two-tiered system of child care, with wealthier parents accessing higher-end facilities. 

"We don't like two-tiered systems in our other public services, like health care, and I think part of the problem with the subsidy system is it doesn't move us in the direction of universality." 

Cathy Montreuil, deputy minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, said the province is making gains in investing in early childhood learning. (CBC)

Cathy Montreuil, deputy minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, didn't refute any of what the MSVU researcher had to say. Instead, Montreuil talked about the many ways the provincial government has tried to improve child care in the past several years.

"We're making good gains," she said.

Speaking to reporters later, she didn't dismiss the creation of a public system, but nor did she endorse the idea.

"At this point in time, I think we're still working our way forward to finding out the Nova Scotia solution and that may be where it ends up."

Montreuil said the department is focused on the continuing expansion of the pre-primary program which will take two more years to complete.

Asked specifically if that might include setting up a publicly run child-care system, the deputy minister would not be specific about what may happen in years to come.

"I'm new to the province and I can't tell you that I have those [answers] in my back pocket, however we are investing in early learning ... and this is the beginning."